For the Silenced Girls

"And when the baby girl buried alive is asked
For what sin was she killed" (81:8-9)

These verses, which stop me hard every time I get to them and dance uneasily in my stomach, are part of a gorgeous eschatological passage in the 30th and final part of the Quran. They refer, of course, to the abhorrent pre-Islamic Arabian practice of mass female infanticide. In a patriarchal society that saw little use for women, countless precious baby girls were stifled in the ground before they had a chance to learn how to speak.

In this passage, God grants them the respect they were denied in life. It is a proof and a warning, a reproach to a people cruel enough to abandon their own flesh and blood to the tender mercies of the thousand tiny knives of the Arabian sand. God says, you thought they did not matter; you thought you could dispose of them as you will; well now, they are raised as witnesses against you, and the very daughters whom you could not bother to teach how to speak will now fill your ears with accusations of profound, blistering eloquence.

The baby girl buried alive is glorified, her first words taking place on the grandest of stages. Her revenge is nestled among verses describing the rolled up sun and the stripped away sky. Her pain, her death, are significant enough to be mentioned alongside the shifting planets.

These verses, to me, are a hard warning from the lips of all of today's buried girls. From children who are snatched away by predatory armies to girls who are denied the right to read. Girls in every country who are being told there is no one to turn to if their bodies are robbed. Girls whose families have evaporated around them, burned away by dragon drones descending from the sky. Girls who are part of a body count we are too tired to pay attention to.

They are only children who have been denied the right to live before they could even start living, lowered gently into the ground and covered with a blanket of ground glass, betrayed by the very people who ought to cradle and love them.

God has assured them that they will have their say. God has assured them -- and us -- that no matter a person's place in the hierarchy of her society, what is done to her matters.

She matters.

I want to know how to brush the sand off their angel faces before they stop breathing. I want to know how I can avoid the terrible power of their first and final reproach. I want to walk around, knowing that I am not pressing on the spines of those who were never allowed to stand.

We have a responsibility to these girls that cannot be forgotten. This, to me, is God and religion in purest form, a steel reminder that even those who are easily brushed aside hold a cosmic weight, carry unfathomable importance.